Monday, July 24, 2006

From the Deep

Ravinia: July 21, 2006

For reasons unknown to me, there hasn't really been a review of Friday night's Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert at Ravinia. (I'm not counting Andrew Patner's not-so-friendly appraisal of James Conlon's connection with the orchestra as a review, as it only mentions the concert rather than discussing it.)

There ought to be one, though. Maybe it was the rain; maybe it was the somewhat unfamiliar program of Erwin Schulhoff's first piano concerto and Mahler's fourth symphony, which even our Mahler-loving household only purchased earlier this month to prepare for this concert. Something kept the crowds away; the lawn was sparse when we arrived 15 minutes before the baton was lifted and even the Pavilion, while densely populated as usual in the center section, had 10-seat wide streams up either side that were vacant. (We got seats just off center, in the first row behind the boxes, as walk-ups and had no one for two seats on either side of us or directly behind us.)

Despite the lack of a crowd, though, the CSO put on quite a show. After James Conlon addressed the audience and explained his Breaking the Silence project, which presents to audiences the music of composers killed during the Holocaust, soloist Philippe Bianconi gave the ivories an impressive workout as he introduced the Pavilion to Schulhoff's first piano concerto. Was it good? Suffice it to say that I'm ordering it from Amazon and that, given the 3-6 week expected wait time, I'm not including a link lest your order should slow mine. And Schulhoff wrote it at age 19!

After intermission, we heard Mahler 4. We've attended each of the Mahler symphonies at Ravinia since Conlon began his other project, the performance of all of them in a row, last summer. While there may be more to the first three than there is to the fourth--and while I remain of the opinion that, had he only produced the first, Mahler would have achieved enough for a lifetime--the brevity and fun of the fourth were uniquely suited to a cool summer evening outdoors. I would be hard pressed to recall another symphonic performance that so ably handled all the distractions Ravinia provides, from the cicadas to the airplanes to the train roaring by. (A stroke of luck brought the Metra along just as one movement ended, and Conlon cleverly held his head down until the engine's cough had faded.) Soprano Anna Christy, making her Ravinia debut, brought a childlike innocence to the final movement, which the crowd could appreciate thanks to supertitles that revealed the almost preposterous text--a child's vision of heaven, complete with a host of saints preparing dinner--she was singing.

Afterward Conlon returned to the stage, joined by journalist Bill Zwecker, to discuss his love of music. Small plastic cups of wine made their way around the audience as Conlon spoke with passion about his Ravinia projects and his ardent belief in the importance of Breaking the Silence. Those who stayed until the end left, I'm sure, deeply pleased with the performances and confident that, with Conlon at the helm, Ravinia's CSO calendar and performances will remain engaging well into the future.


Michele said...

It sounds like a wonderful evening Richard. I am guessing we won't make it to Ravinia this summer, but you're right in that it almost always provides a wonderful summer evening of great music and peaceful atmosphere (despite cicadas, trains and planes).

Richard said...

There's always next year; if they're true to form the CSO will start the 2007 season with Mahler 5. (Last season began with Mahler 1 and this one began with Mahler 3; as a result I can honestly claim to have been at the CSO's opening night at Ravinia the last two seasons.) Maybe you can join us!